The Eagles are about to play a home game unlike any in their history.
The first game at Lincoln Financial Field in 2003 had a crowd of 67,772. When the Rams visit on Sunday, that number will be zero.
So we kicked around in the clips for a while to see what other unusual things have happened in home openers. Some have been joyous, some have been poignant, some downright appalling. Here’s a sampling.
1933: The Eagles' first home game was a 25-0 loss to the Portsmouth Spartans. The Eagles list the attendance that night, played at the Baker Bowl (Broad and Lehigh), at 1,750. The Inquirer reported 5,000. The Eagles' game shared top billing on our front sports page the following day with a steeplechase competition held at Rose Tree Hunting Country Club in Delaware County.
1936: The Eagles beat the Giants, 10-7, for their first home-opening win in what Inquirer writer Stan Baumgartner called “one of the greatest upsets ever achieved in professional football.” Might not have been an overstatement. The Eagles didn’t win a game the rest of the year and finished 1-11.
1949: A 28-3 rout of the Chicago Cardinals, whom the Eagles beat in the championship game the previous season, was aided by several unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties. Co-coaches Phil Handler and Buddy Parker stormed the field in one incident, trainer Myron Esler was ejected in another.
1961: Timmy Brown returned the opening kickoff 105 yards, a play that would stand as the longest in team history for more than 50 years, and the Eagles made a strong statement that they wanted to repeat as NFL champions. The dual headline on the Inquirer front page the following day was, “Eagles defeat Browns, 27-20; Maris Hits 58th” as the New York Yankees slugger closed in on Babe Ruth’s hallowed home run record.
1968: The Eagles had three extra points blocked and threw an interception that was returned 72 yards in a loss to the Giants. New York’s kicker that day was Pete Gogolak, a corporal on 30-day leave from his base in Garmisch, Germany. The Eagles started the year 0-9 but would even mess that up as two otherwise meaningless wins late in the season cost them a chance to draft USC’s star running back, O.J. Simpson.
1974: Dallas spent most of 1967-78 torturing the Eagles, but on this Monday night, it was Joe Lavender’s 96-yard fumble return for a touchdown and the defense that carried the Birds to a rare win.
1983: The first game after Dick Vermeil’s retirement was a loss to Washington that sadly featured an attack on Zema “Chief Zee” Williams, a Washington fan who for years dressed in traditional Indian attire. His headdress was thrown from the Vet Stadium upper deck and he was beaten up outside the stadium afterward. Williams suffered a broken leg in the attack. It’s unclear if anyone was ever prosecuted, but Williams did receive a $15,000 settlement in a lawsuit against stadium security. He died in 2016, and was often cited as an example by critics who felt that Washington’s previous nickname was racist.
1984: Wilbert Montgomery broke Steve Van Buren’s team record for career rushing yards. Montgomery, a sixth-round pick from Abilene Christian in 1977, almost left training camp his first year because he was overwhelmed by life as an NFL rookie. “That first year Wilbert kept a towel under his door so they couldn’t give him the pink slip,” quarterback Ron Jaworski said. “He didn’t think he’d make the team. But we all recognized his talent. … He had everything it takes to make it in the NFL. The only thing he lacked was confidence. That sounds funny now, considering all he’s done.”
1992: A moving tribute honoring Jerome Brown was held before a victory against New Orleans. The late Brown’s No. 99 was retired by the team, then only the fifth number to be so honored.
» FROM THE ARCHIVES: Memories of Jerome Brown, 20 years after his passing
1995: Ricky Watters had three productive seasons in Philadelphia. Never missed a game, and rushed for 1,000 yards every year. But in his first game here (which was blacked out locally), the free-agent signee from Super Bowl-winning San Francisco, defiantly defended his decision not to go all-out to try to catch two dangerous passes over the middle. “Hey, I’m not gonna jump up there and get knocked out,” Watters said. “For who? For what? There’s another day. I’m gonna make a whole lot of plays here. I made a whole lot of plays where I was at before. I’ve always made plays.” Seven years later, those indelible four words would be the title of his autobiography.
1996: John Zitter, an Eagles fan from Langhorne attending his 200th consecutive home game, died of a heart attack an hour before kickoff. He was waiting to do a pregame radio interview with Angelo Cataldi when he collapsed in WIP’s tent. Zitter, 62, hadn’t missed a home game since 1963. “His whole life,” daughter Audrey said, “revolved around football.”
1999: Andy Reid’s first home game as head coach was a 25-24 loss to the Cardinals. Doug Pederson was his starting QB. It also was blacked out.
2003: The Buccaneers shut out the Eagles, 17-0, in the first regular-season game at Lincoln Financial Field, which also coincided with owner Jeffrey Lurie’s 52nd birthday. Tampa Bay nine months earlier had closed Veterans Stadium by beating the Eagles in the NFC championship game in one of the most bitter losses in franchise history.
2004: Donovan McNabb finally got a No. 1 wide receiver and Terrell Owens did not disappoint in a thrilling win over the Giants. Owens had eight catches, including three for touchdown in his Eagles’ debut, after needing police assistance to get to Lincoln Financial Field. "I got off on the Pattison [Avenue] exit, saw the traffic, and ended up going on the shoulder,” Owens said. “I really didn’t know which way to go.”
2012: Andy Reid’s final home opener was Fletcher Cox’s first. The rookie had five tackles in an extremely emotional day for the defensive tackle. His mom and the mother of best friend Melvin Baker were in the stands. Baker was killed in a car accident just three months earlier. “I’m so proud. To see him out there ... there’s really no words for it,” Baker’s mother said. “I had a few tear-dripping moments.”
2016: Carson Wentz, a rookie with just 23 starts at the Division I-AA level, had an impressive NFL debut with 278 yards passing, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions in 37 pass attempts..
2017: Malcolm Jenkins, Torrey Smith, and Marcus Johnson each raised a fist during the national anthem in response to President Trump’s call for players who do not stand, such as Colin Kaepernick, to be fired. The Eagles, by the way, beat the Giants, 27-24, on rookie kicker Jake Elliott’s 61-yard field goal at the gun. Five months later, they won their first Super Bowl.
2019: DeSean Jackson had touchdown catches of 51 and 53 yards and the Eagles rallied from a 17-0 deficit to beat Washington — just like Washington did to them in their home opener this year.